San Marcos prepares for commencement crowds

By: 

News Reporter

City and university officials are preparing for an influx of guests as commencement ceremonies approach.

This year’s ceremonies will be the largest in the university’s history, with 4,900 students set to walk across the stage at Strahan Coliseum May 14-16, according to an April 28 email from the commencement committee.

The committee was created to help ease crowding, congestion and confusion, said Kristin McDaniel, commencement coordinator.

“We have the commencement team, which is a committee made up of individuals from around campus that meet each semester,” McDaniel said. “From that, we have a safety and transportation subgroup, (which) prepares the maps and the transportation plans for spring (commencement).”

The subgroup members planned to close off certain roads to accommodate people attempting to arrive at Strahan Coliseum, McDaniel said.

“Charles Austin Drive, which goes in between Strahan and the parking lot, will be closed just during the ceremonies,” McDaniel said. “That’s to allow pedestrian traffic to cross the street safely.”

The university designated the Bobcat Stadium and Strahan Coliseum parking lots for ceremony guests, said Sharon Wilsford, head parking services officer, in an email. Guests with limited mobility will be able to park closer to Strahan in the lot next to the Coliseum and ride golf carts to the entrance.

University officials will provide a shuttle from Bobcat Stadium to the Strahan entrance on Aquarena Springs Drive, McDaniel said.

“One lane will be designated as a bus lane,” McDaniel said. “Just during the ceremony times, we’ll have that coned off.”

McDaniel recommended drivers avoid using Aquarena Springs and Sessom Drive during the commencement ceremonies to reduce traffic congestion.

University officials will allow staff to leave work early May 14 in order to cut down on evening traffic, McDaniel said.

“With supervisor approval, staff can leave at 3 p.m. using their vacation or some type of leave just to try to get some of the campus off of work and out of San Marcos and the area before that 6 p.m. ceremony on Thursday,” McDaniel said.

Committee members recommended students arrive at Strahan an hour before their ceremony to get the best parking and seating, McDaniel said.

Ushers will be stationed at all entrances to help direct guests. Committee members plan to supplement the ushers with signage to show guests where to check in or sit, McDaniel said.

The Saturday, May 16 ceremony is expected to be the busiest, so the committee will set up a separate screening room in a gym if the Strahan auditorium fills up, McDaniel said.

“We’ll have a large screen and chairs in there along with programs,” McDaniel said.

Officials at San Marcos restaurants and hotels are also preparing for ceremony attendees.

Palmer’s Restaurant, Bar & Courtyard will have a different dining layout for graduation, said owner Monte Sheffield.

“We turn the restaurant, have a whole new diagram (and) a whole new game plan of the way the restaurant looks because of our seating chart,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield and staff have discovered over the years during graduation, dining parties tend to come in groups, or “tops,” of eight to 12.

“Instead of having our restaurant set up with a bunch of two, four and six tops, we have a whole new floor plan that goes out because we want to accommodate those large groups that are going to be here,” Sheffield said.

Palmer’s will have supplemental parking available behind the First Presbyterian Church during the weekend, Sheffield said.

Embassy Suites San Marcos has spaces for dinners and small graduation parties, said Ruth Buck, director of sales.

Some guests at the Comfort Suites in San Marcos have booked rooms in advance, said Brandon Kitchen, general manager. Some guests did so as early as August 2014.

Walk-in guests may have trouble finding rooms, Kitchens said.

“There are going to be those last-minute travelers that are going to be scrambling for rooms, but to my knowledge, most of the (rooms) have already been booked out,” Kitchens said.

The Embassy Suites is fully booked for graduation weekend, Buck said.

“We’re going to be sold out,” Buck said. “We’ve got about five rooms left.”